Jesse Brown- The Navy's First Black Pilot and the Extraordinary Subject of 'Devotion,' Showing in Theaters This November

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On Nov. 23, 2022, the film Devotion will hit theaters nationwide. Devotion is the story of Jesse L. Brown, the Navy's first Black pilot. Brown shattered the color barrier, becoming an inspiration for Black aviators in the future. The story follows Brown and his counterpart Tom Hudner, wingmen, throughout the Korean War. [i]

Brown was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, to a sharecropper family. Brown was an athlete and excelled in math, dreaming of being a pilot since he was a small boy. He attended Ohio State University and joined the Naval Reserve to assist him with paying for college. [ii]

After persisting, Brown was allowed to take the qualification exams for a new naval aviation program. After five hours of written tests, "followed by oral tests and a rigorous physical exam," Brown was accepted into the program. Despite his acceptance, Brown indicated to a friend that he was unsure if the Navy truly wanted him. [iii]

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Ensign Jesse L. Brown in the flight deck of the USS Leyte.US Navy/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Brown initially flew a Vought F4U-4 Corsair assigned to fighter squadron VF-32 aboard the USS Wright, CVL-49. Developed in early 1938, Corsair "broke the speed record for a single-seat fighter aircraft by exceeding 400 miles per hour in level flight" during her maiden flight. [iv]

The Corsair entered combat in 1943 and excelled as a fighter and attack aircraft, supporting ground forces. It was primarily known for its ruggedness, speed, and firepower. Remarkably, the F4U-4 "was the last Corsair variant to see service during World War II." [v]

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A Vought F4U-4 CorsairMike Freer/Wikimedia Commons

After having been a pilot for more than two years, Brown would be heading to Chosin Reservoir when he found his aircraft had been hit. He radioed his status and his wingman Lieutenant (j.g.) Thomas J. Hudner Jr. chose to crash land next to Brown, risking a court-martial and capture, plus his own life. Brown, unfortunately, did not survive. [vi]

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Jesse L. Brown as a midshipman.US Navy/Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Because Brown's body could not be safely recovered, his shipmates honored Brown with a warrior's funeral. On Dec. 7, 1950,

Seven aircraft loaded with napalm and piloted by Ensign Brown's friends made several low passes over his downed Corsair. The top of Brown's head was still visible with snow on his hair when they dropped the napalm on his plane while reciting The Lord's Prayer." [vii]

Brown was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, and the Purple Heart. His wingman faced court-martial, but instead of punishment, received the Medal of Honor "for exceptionally valiant action and selfless devotion to a shipmate."[viii]

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Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Thomas HudnerJwilbur/Wikimedia Commons

The hangar at Naval Air Station Meridian is also dedicated to Brown. Additionally, a Knox-class frigate was named after Brown, launched in 1972, the USS Jesse L. Brown, FF-1089. The frigate is known for its participation in the coup d'├ętat of Chile. [viii] [ix]

Watch the trailer and teaser for 'Devotion' below, starring Jonathan Majors as Jesse L. Brown.

References

[i] Naval History and Heritage Command, Jesse L. Brown, (2022)

[ii] Id.

[iii] Id.

[iv] The National WWII Museum, Vought F4U Corsair, (2022)

[v] Id.

[vi] Naval History and Heritage Command, Jesse L. Brown, (2022)

[vii] Jeremy Kariuki, The Story of Jesse L. Brown: The Navy's First African American Pilot, (Feb. 11, 2022)

[viii] Thomas Howard, 'A true American story': NAS Meridian dedicates hangar to Navy's first Black aviator, (May 13, 2022)

[ix] Wikipedia, USS Jesse L. Brown (FF-1089), (2022)

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